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  • Documents on Democracy
  • Hong Kong

On 9 April 1997, with less than three months remaining before Hong Kong’s reversion to Chinese sovereignty, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) presented its biennial Democracy Award to Martin Lee, the leader of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party. Excerpts from his acceptance speech, delivered at the awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., appear below:

People receiving an award like this usually say very humbly, “I don’t deserve this,” and so on. But I will tell you I really wanted this thing. I really wanted to be given this award, not for my sake but for the people of Hong Kong, because I want them to know that they are not fighting for democracy alone in Hong Kong. I want them to know that there are many, many friends in the United States, and indeed in other parts of the world, who are supporting us in the fight for democracy. So I thank you all for giving this award to me, and thank God you didn’t give it to anybody else. I don’t say that I deserve it more than anybody else, but I need it more than anybody else. . . .

In Hong Kong a lot of people will say, “Democracy was a new thing from the British government that they didn’t give to Hong Kong people earlier.” True. If you look at British history, they never gave democracy to any colony until the very end. The same goes for Hong Kong. But China is not in a position to complain. . . . To the contrary, China signed this agreement [the Sino-British Joint Declaration], which says in one sentence: “The legislature of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be constituted by elections.” . . . So China cannot complain.

. . . Democracy is something we must always continue to aspire to, and even in your country people cannot take it for granted. There are still many things which we all can do better. In Hong Kong we have so much to learn. . . .

So I don’t believe democracy will be extinguished, because the flame of democracy has been ignited now, belatedly, and it is burning in the [End Page 184] hearts of all the men and women of Hong Kong. So an iron fist cannot extinguish it. It may be blocked, it may be hidden for some time. But the flame will glow, I am sure, because the whole world is going toward democracy and human rights and the rule of law. I cannot believe that the old leaders of China—for they are all still old even after Deng—can block that tide for too long. It’s bound to be there. And we are dedicated to this cause of democracy. We will stay behind and fight for it. . . .

We will stay and fight. People ask me this question again and again: “What is going to happen to you, Martin?” I always give this answer: “Martin Lee is not my problem. Because I rather like this guy and I think you do, too. But they don’t, so they have got to think of some way to get rid of me. I am going to stay there and fight for human rights and democracy and rule of law.”

A lot of my friends praise me—they say I’m courageous and all that. But actually I’m not. Because I believe I am on the winning side. You can be a coward and still bet on a winner. I believe I’m on the winning side because my philosophy in life is very simple: So long as I’m still there fighting, I cannot lose. It is only when I give up that I lose. And I will not give up, so how can I lose? Democracy will come to Hong Kong, as indeed it will come to China. My vision for my country, China, which is a big country, is that soon it will become a really great nation, when the human rights of every Chinese citizen will be respected and protected by law. And I know that these things will come when my friends here and my friends all over the world back...

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pp. 184-188
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